Wednesday, July 19, 2017
I was skeptical when Matt Reeves and Co. relaunched the Planet of the Apes franchise a few years back. We're big fans of the original five films here at The Signal Watch - but despite a certain affection for Tim Burton and an appreciation for anything with a simian in a featured role, I've only seen that remake once. Because I kind of hated it and wound up having to apologize to several friends who agreed to go see the movie with me.
So, yet another go at the idea wasn't something I was looking forward to initially.
But, lo and behold, Rise and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes were released, and, yea, I dug them. They managed to find an astonishing line where they could break from the original narrative but still give nods enough, show respect for those movies and still be entirely their own thing. If Caesar wasn't the child of apes who'd traveled through time and space, we still found a way to make him the founder of the Ape Society that didn't need to bend time and space to get the job done. And if I always stood by the complex heart of the original slate of films, the new movies refused to be any less challenging.
I'm pleased to report that War for the Planet of the Apes is a worthy conclusion to the trilogy, an astonishing technical achievement, and - as all the apes movies have been (save the Burton one-off) a thoughtful character study and examination of morals. And, of course, a dystopian sci-fi franchise that actually earns its dim view of humanity. It isn't just ignorance or folly that leads to man's downfall, it's mankind's inability to tame our demons that drives us straight over the cliff.
Saturday, April 1, 2017
A few folks had recommended to me Altered Carbon (2002) by Richard Morgan. Likely this was due to my interests in science-fiction and detective/ noir fiction. Not a bad call, that. The book is more or less a detective story with a decidedly noirish bent set in a far-flung future of high technology and interstellar travel.
While our characters live in a fantasyland of technological wonders and possibilities, the technology the book is most preoccupied with is the digitization of the human consciousness, allowing minds and personalities to flow freely between bodies or into virtual environments as specters, even crossing the cosmos for business meetings into rented "sleeves". While mankind lives at a point where genetic and chemical manipulation of the human form is common practice, the same ills that always plague humanity are no further off. War, hunger, institutionalized economic disparity, religious mania... all still present hundreds of years from today despite the colonization of many new worlds and the discovery of alien artifacts.
Sunday, January 22, 2017
By no stretch of the imagination is Roger Corman's Death Race 2050 a good movie, but it was released this week (streaming on Netflix at the moment), and I needed some campy satire to wrap up this particular moment in American political history. You guys be you, I'll still enjoy some barely concealed hostility hidden beneath a thin veneer of comedy and allegory wrapped up in a decidedly trashy movie.
I still like a good B-movie. Heck, a film-loving co-worker asked me what I recommended that I'd seen lately and my two answers were Tower (not a B-movie) and Starcrash. While I always like the unintentionally hilarious bad movie, Roger Corman has made making lower-tier films an artform and routinely pushed what's possible in movies thanks to an interesting mix of inventiveness, a certainty no one is watching all that closely, and a certain fearless stunt filmmaking. Sure, sometimes the product is bad (well, all the time). The politics can be almost confusing as you grapple with stereotypes of race or class mixed with stereotype breaking and shattering.
But, hey, I couldn't sleep well growing up, and trashy movies were there for me. I may be the only person you know who owns a copy of Reform School Girls.
Monday, December 19, 2016
When those of us who grew up with the original Star Wars trilogy thought of what might happen in the long-awaited prequels, I strongly suspect most of us expected something a bit more like Rogue One (2016). We'd only received glimpses of the pre-Luke Skywalker past, embedded in the story we'd heard about the Clone Wars, an Anakin Skywalker who was supposed to be some sort of edgy fighter pilot who becomes a Jedi... I was expecting three movies that took place against the backdrop of The Clone Wars, which always sounded pretty rough, at least in my head.
I'd also observe - Much as the superhero comics we read grew up with us, I think maybe I was expecting a Star Wars that acknowledged the conflict from which Episode IV sprang and maybe cut a little deeper - maybe had a bit of a rough and tumble edge that Ewok-laden finales may have foregone.
So, I think it's true that the content and execution of the three Prequel films surprised a lot of us.
Rogue One, the second of these films directed by the generation that grew up on them, expands upon what we know, creating far less continuity difficulty than Lucas introduced in the Prequels, brings back familiar sights and sounds, while filling in gaps and giving us all new adventures and characters. In this, I think you can say it succeeds with a solid A-, B+ (I spotted an issue or two, and my pal Matt brought one up I thought actually a pretty salient point).
That's not to say Rogue One hits all the right notes or was exactly what I was expecting (it wasn't). It's interesting to see Disney seeking to expand upon the seemingly vast universe Star Wars always promised, but which we could only visit in 150 minute increments. Here, they risk tonal differences, deliver only bits of familiar characters and try something a little uncomfortable, and, for the most part, they succeed.
Saturday, December 10, 2016
Note: I'm going to talk about HBO's 2016 series, Westworld, as a whole. If you're avoiding spoilers, this is not the place for you.
There's a great deal to like about the 10 episodes of HBO's sci-fi series, Westworld. It's been interesting to find out how many people haven't seen the original Westworld film by Michael Crichton - a name which is pobably just an echo to Millennials but which was a hosuehold name through the 1990's. I'll cop to having not seen (or don't remember seeing) Futureworld (1976) or the TV series Beyond Westworld (1980).
I am sure the original 1973 film felt like futureshock at the time, or maybe sci-fi silliness to many. The first time I watched it back before high school, which would have been the late 1980's, 70's hair-stylings aside, it seemed to work very well as a thriller, even if it didn't seem to run deep with the complexities of Blade Runner or other AI films. Well into the 1980's, our relationship with technology and computers wasn't as everyday as it's become, and fiction treated computers a bit like the genie's lamp right up through the late 1990's.
What the movie does that still holds up is create an adult theme park that is both impossible, yet seems like something that people would be up for whether we want to admit it or not if the wild success of Las Vegas is any indication. It's a world of sex and violence with only the most minor of repercussions as one fulfills fantasies and indulges whims in a familiar place, but one separated enough from our own day-to-day that you'd lose your bearings. And steeped in the inherent violence of the filmic west, it's a world in which you'd be more likely to shoot first and question later.
Sunday, November 13, 2016
I don't know where to start or what, exactly, to say about Starcrash (1978).
I'd heard of the movie decades ago as it was always in with the sci-fi/ fantasy movies at video rental shops, but with Caroline Munro in a vinyl bikini on the box cover, I knew better than to bother to rent the movie. When I was young enough to have to ask my parents to rent something for me, I didn't want to put up with the questions and then the reporting my parents would gleefully do given the first opportunity (my family looooooves a good embarrassing story, and a 10 year old Ryan standing there with a video with a buxom space-lady on the cover would have been fodder for them for weeks, if not years).
When I got older and was renting movies on my own, and, I know it seems counter-intuitive if you've been following this site for a while, but I already knew any movie relying on a bikini-clad off-brand actor on the cover wound up as a terrible decision. Yes, it was also the kind of thing that became fodder for Mystery Science Theater 3000 in it's later years when the cheaply produced post Star Wars/ post Mad Max knock-offs were showing up over and over at the video store, but without Joel or Mike to guide me through, it wasn't worth it.* And, I don't mind that at one point in my life I was subconsciously trying to understand what was and was not a good movie.
Thursday, November 10, 2016
What an inexplicably timed movie.
I'd gone into Arrival (2016) with very little knowledge other than it was about "first contact" and starred Amy Adams as a linguist, and at this point, I'll more or less pay to see Amy Adams read the phone book. So, throw in some aliens, some hand-wavy hard science fiction and I was in.
This movie is in line with The Day the Earth Stood Still or the themes of Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Alien vessels arrive, truly alien, and a very good looking linguist must be put to the task to help the military communicate with the visitors. Of course there are eleven more of these ships scattered across the planet, and everyone is trying to speak to the aliens to find out if they mean us harm.
Thursday, October 27, 2016
Watching a Frankenstein/ Bride of Frankenstein (1935) double-bill has become my personal Halloween tradition. I'd already watched Frankenstein this year, and so needed to work in Bride of, which has been tough with the Cubs actually making it into the World Series. I mean, usually by early October, I'm kinda done with baseball and my football watching is contained to Saturdays.
But, what would Halloween even be (for me) without The Bride of Frankenstein? I don't even want to know.
The movie remains horrific, beautiful, eerie, hilarious. Everything I'd want in a single movie, and everything I like about the holiday.
Here's to Mr. Whale and company, and everything that makes this one of my favorite films.
Saturday, October 15, 2016
Back in the 1980's, I remember seeing a lot of movies like Critters (1986) on the shelf at the local home video rental shoppe. The boxes would show you a goblin sort of creature, and promised a certain level of horror that wasn't necessarily going to go in for splatter and gore of a Chainsaw variety or even a Freddy Kreuger level of scare. Maybe some broad humor in there, plots as basic as a Dukes of Hazzard episode. It was always maybe a little gorier than a modern PG-13 film, but, in retrospect, there's no question that these movies were basically aimed at kids with VCR's.
There's nothing wrong with it, but I wasn't a fan of the sub-sub-genre.
I don't think I was exactly aware the movie was aimed at me as a 12 year-old-or-so as I was when I saw this movie the first time at someone else's house. My recollection is that the kid was very excited about the movie Critters, and his dad showed up with the movie in hand "hey, I rented CRITTERS!" and I was like "y'okay..." whereas my pal couldn't have been more jazzed had we just been given a stack of fireworks to shoot off all night. He loved the movie, and I just settled in, because... what are you gonna do? So, I've seen it once before.
Point of fact - Jamie and I have been together 21 years this month, and I can't tell you how many times she's mentioned liking Critters as a kid. Or, I guess, watching Critters as a kid.
And so it came to pass that when I said "well, we need to watch something Halloween-ish", she tossed out Critters, and as she has never, ever previously stated a desire to watch any Halloween movie but Young Frankenstein, I just said "y'okay..."
So, we watched Critters.
Monday, October 10, 2016
I remember coming back to school after the summer of 1985 and a good chunk of my classmates were nuts over Back to the Future (1985). I'd seen it in the theater, but even of our own family, I think I liked it the least of the four of us. But I was a little surprised how much my peers liked the movie, and over the past ten years I've been even more surprised to find how much not just my own generation still celebrates the entire trilogy, but Millenials love the movies, too.
I won't say I didn't watch it over and over in the 1980's when it was on VHS or on cable. I've seen it at least 6 or 7 times. But it's been a long, long while.
The movie was on cable last weekend, and I gave it a spin for the first time in a long time, more or less to figure out what I'm missing when I watch the movie that everyone else is seeing. I want to make it clear: this is my deficiency, not anything I think all of you people are stupid for liking. As near as I can tell, there really isn't anything wrong with the movie. And Lea Thompson's many, many iterations of Lorraine over the trilogy - heck, within just this first movie - is pretty impressive.
Wednesday, September 21, 2016
The last time I read Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, I was about 15 and had a fairly hard time keeping up with a narrative that wasn't an easily digestible Isaac Asimov plot and which didn't work with a Bradbury-esque flow to carry me over the rough patches. I didn't know anything about Philip K. Dick other than that he was the name of the guy who wrote the book upon which they'd based Blade Runner, at the time one my new favorite movies (and, of course, still a favorite). But, I had heard the novel and movie were different.
I really don't know why I decided it was time to read the book again other than that, like most books I read 25+ years ago, my memories of the details were fuzzy. I mostly remembered feeling that - as screwed as the Rick Deckard of the film had been, the Deckard of DADoES? was in a far more precarious state. I recalled a "fake" police station, Roy Batty seemed less a threat, and the world of the novel existed in a state of decay that went well beyond even the night-time drizzling menace of the film.
It's not that I had a hard time understanding the story from an A to B to C to D perspective, but Dick's books always seem to be doing what science-fiction can do intensely well, and that's act as allegory for some more universal story or truth or as a thought experiment to explore those ideas. I'm sure I got it in that "I read what was on the page" sort of way, but there was no way for me to really relate. Add in my trouble reconciling the differences between the book and movie and expecting the themes and plot to better dovetail, and it was a recipe for forgetting a lot of what was interesting or special about the book as repeated Blade Runner viewings had quashed a lot of what I might have remembered.
Upon a re-read, I'd argue you need to see the two narratives as separate and attempting different stories with different meaning. There are certainly resonant thematic issues, but in making many of the changes Ridley Scott and Co. went with, Blade Runner is far more a product of expectations of films (no matter which cut we're discussing), of roles within films, and the limited running time of a movie and what can be in that story.
Tuesday, August 30, 2016
We're in Seattle for a week of vacation. We've seen the Space Needle, Pike's Place and a few other things as we caught up with old friends who've relocated to the area.
Today it was just me and Jamie, and he headed down to the EMP.
The EMP is a museum that was set up by Microsoft billionaire Paul Allen and was originally going to be all about music. Well, half of the museum is - and we went to that, but this isn't a music blog and it's weird to take pictures of certain kinds of exhibits or art. But the EMP is now also home to Paul Allen's other collections, I guess.
Above, you see me freaking the hell out about the Gorn costume from the Star Trek episode Arena, the episode that first piqued my interest in Trek as a kid and - in my humble opinion - one of the finest hours of television ever produced.
But, I was basically just freaking the hell out through the whole museum as it was truly an amazing spectacle of genre movie and TV props and FX items.
You can view my stash of photos here.
|This is exactly the sort of stuff I'd wind up owning if I had billions of dollars|
Wednesday, July 27, 2016
There's an argument to be made that Stranger Things, 2016 (8 episodes, Season 1 on Netflix) is a rip off and riff on popular and cult media of the 1980's and that we should be suspicious of it's desire to emulate the stylings, feel and sensibilities of the era. The show trades in nostalgia for Gen-X'ers (and likely Millennials, whom, it seems, grew up on the media of Gen-X), from font type to musical selection to references to kid culture of the time to conspicuously placed posters of influential films of the era.*
That it does these things is unquestionable - this is not convergent evolution. But with 1983 (the year the story takes place) now 30-odd years in the rear-view mirror, it's also a period piece (I'll just let that sink in, 40-somethings.) just as much as Grease was in the late 70's, or 90% of the output of Martin Scorsese. That the Duffer Brothers, show runners who wrote and directed a huge portion of the 8 episodes, chose this period to mine is not a huge surprise. We're still working our way through Star Wars sequels and Ghostbusters relaunches. We can casually drop an E.T. or Poltergeist reference and expect to be understood. In perhaps more self-selective circles, we can do same with The Thing or Evil Dead.
Anyway, something happened in the 1980's that was not entirely of the era, but it showed up like an open wound in our media of the era in a way that movies have forgotten how to do.
Tuesday, July 26, 2016
No big secret to anyone with whom I talk Star Trek, but I hated Star Trek: Into Darkness. That's not a term I use lightly. Generally, I "didn't like" a movie, it "wasn't aimed at me", "wasn't my cup of tea" or I might have believed "it sucked". But, nope, I hated Into Darkness.
The movie, which could and should have been about the launch of the Enterprise and establishing the universe around the characters set up in the first movie (which, in many ways, was a glorified version of Space Camp), didn't just feel like a betrayal to the spirit and (pardon the pun) enterprise of the Star Trek universe I've enjoyed as both an avid enthusiast and sometimes occasional fan, depending on which incarnation of Trek we're discussing. Into Darkness felt like it was picking the bones of a better, much-loved franchise to tell a lousy story and try to steal some of the gravitas along the way rather than creating anything of its own or lending anything new and not doing anything compelling with what bit of novelty it did contain.
With this third installment, Paramount does a yeoman's job of righting the ship and getting it back on course. I won't try to oversell the movie - it's far from a perfect film (but name the Citizen Kane of Star Trek movies, I dare you), but for the first time in three movies, it feels like Trek. And, man, that is actually terribly important. Not only does this installment understand the universe of Trek better than its forebears, it does that thing of spiffying it up and adds some new bits along the way.
I hadn't actually planned to see the movie. The first trailer I saw alongside The Force Awakens was so cringe-inducing and tone deaf (and, as it turns out, a bad representation of the actual film), that I just laughed it off and decided I'd get back to Star Trek at some other point with some other relaunch after the public wrote off this series for good.
The Star Trek reboot, in my opinion, was a failure.
Saturday, July 16, 2016
Closer Than We Think from Clindar on Vimeo.
I was sent this video by pal-Andrew (Jamie's brother's wife's brother), and now I totally want to see this video. It's a documentary being made about Arthur Radebaugh and his sci-fi futurist strip, "Closer Than We Think". This hits so many positive buttons, I sincerely hope this film is made and gets a release.
For more on Radebaugh
The official website
a blogspot site
From the Ohio State Library
Paleofuture at Gizmodo
Saturday, July 9, 2016
I've seen this movie a few times thanks to the power of MST3K. And if you're ever curious to see one of the movies covered in the Tim Burton film Ed Wood, I strongly recommend this one.
But I am not spending time writing up this movie. We all have lives.
Sunday, June 26, 2016
It had been some time since I'd watched the 1973 sci-fi classic, Westworld. I'd rented it with Jason some time back in the late 80's, and I think we both really liked it (but, if memory serves, he'd seen it before). I've only seen it again once in college somewhere along the line, enjoyed it, but not watched it again anytime in the last 16 years at least. I've tried to watch the sequel, Futureworld, but just couldn't watch the 1976 film. Something about the pacing lost me the one time I tried to give it a whirl.
It seems HBO is launching a TV series also titled Westworld which will greatly expand on the ideas presented in the movie. It's got an all-star cast and looks to be the sort of thing I find interesting in science fiction.* I'll be checking it out, certainly, and have high hopes. Anyway, it got me fired up to review the original film once again.
Tuesday, June 21, 2016
Full disclosure: this novel was written by a buddy, and I was predisposed to like it for that reason. I read about 100 pages of the first release of the book in PDF, then purchased the first self-printed run of the book - started that, and then Jason alerted folks that he'd actually landed a publisher, and to hang on a minute. So, with my third copy of the book, I started over (again) and just wrapped the book Sunday afternoon.*
Old Green World (2015) is the first novel from Jason Dewey Craft, and it's a curious mix of science-fiction and fantasy, though it's unclear where or if the reader should bother to draw a line between the two genres. It plays off of villages and castles while taking place in a future far removed from our own present day, a post-post-apocalyptic world on an Earth returned to something closer to a state of nature or without deep impact by humanity (depending how you mean).
I'm not much of a sci-fi reader, but part of why I abandoned the genre and had a hard time picking up sci-fi and fantasy was the weirdly patterned and mannered approach to sci-fi and fantasy writing, an overly descriptive method of world building and character which seems more in love with thinking up gadgets and whatnot and less with a reason for telling the story. The tack can lead to a lack of narrative novelty as writers happily cut from the same few templates, the fandom and limited approach of authors showing through in the execution.
From the first pages, Old Green World seems to co-opt and then transform the conventions of the fantasy building, creating an understandable world despite economical detail in the prose, never bothering to fall into the trap of purple exposition, but, rather, simply describing location, character, scene, etc.. where necessary. Much is left for the reader to imagine, to parse, to fill in the gaps. The approach leaves the text subject to interpretation, of course, and many of the ideas that drive the conceit of the story rely on abstraction.
Sunday, May 1, 2016
It's been a long, long time since I'd watched the Director's Cut of Aliens (1986). In fact, when I put in my DVD - one of the first DVD's I ever purchased back in The Gay 90's* - I was genuinely surprised to find this was the cut of the film that had been collecting dust on my shelf for... a while.
It's not that I haven't seen Aliens during that time. I know I've seen it at least once at the Paramount (with Simon), and it seems like I've seen it at The Alamo in the last decade, so the need to give my disk a spin has not been extraordinarily high, I guess. It seems like I've watched it at least in parts on cable.
Before the directors cut came out, I had a pretty good idea of what might be in it as I'd read the novelization of the movie back in middle school, and, indeed, meeting Newt's family is in there, but the domestic scene of the novel doesn't play out the same way in the movie - leaving you without that pain point of "here is who we lost".
Frankly, I think the final cut works better than the Director's Cut. That family that's lost works out better as whatever your imagination conjures rather than a fairly forgettable bunch of folks from central casting. The themes of motherhood and protecting your brood are crammed down your throat a bit less in the theatrical cut, that product feeling more organic, and the theatrical cut just feels stripped down and sleeker. Seeing the colony with the same eyes as the Colonial Marines - an unknown place that was filled with unknown people, and something awful clearly happened here - just works better for me than seeing what happened before. And makes the Aliens, in their way, all that more scary.
But, whatever, that's just my take. As per the movie, if you've seen it, you have your opinions. If you haven't seen it and you're over the age of, oh, 13... get on it.
*that's what I'm calling it. The 1890's don't get all the fun.
Saturday, April 30, 2016
It had been some time since I'd seen Alien, and I had never seen it on the big screen. The Alamo Drafthouse was doing double-bills of Alien and Aliens, and then Alien3 and Alien Resurrection. I showed up for the double-bill, but I've been exhausted all week, and when SimonUK, my movie buddy, announced he'd seen the two movies on 4/26, I felt like I had an out. So, we watched Alien, grabbed a pint at the bar after skipping out on movie #2, and then I went home for 40 winks.